Mercury absorbed by sponge created using nanotechnology

Heavy metal pollution is a real problem in water but a sponge-like material may be the answer.

Ke Xu, graduate student, CFANSFrom left to right, graduate student Snober Ahmed, Professor Abdennour Abbas and graduate student John Brockgreitens. Ahmed worked on the mercury sponge while Brockgreitens is working on expanding the concept to other pollutants.

Scientists have developed a sponge with outstanding mercury absorption properties that works in seconds to clean contaminated water.

The sponge material has been created with the application of nanotechnology and researchers said mercury contaminations can be removed from water supplies and lakes in fewer than five seconds, or around five minutes for industrial wastewater.

Ke Xu, graduate student, CFANSAfter modification with nanotechnology, this sponge captures mercury and kills microbes.

The sponge, which also kills bacterial and fungal microbes, converts the mercury into a non-toxic complex so it can be disposed of in a landfill after use.

The project was led by Professor Abdennour Abbas University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences (CFANS).

The material is of particular interest to the state of Minnesota where over two thirds of the water on Minnesota’s 2004 Impaired Waters List are impaired because of mercury contamination ranging from 0.27 to 12.43 ng/L (the EPA limit is 2 ng/L).

The team said that in addition to improving air and water quality, aquatic life and public health, the technology could have an impact on influencing new regulations.

In 2015, EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulation estimated a cost of around of £7.6billion ($9.6 billion) annually by 2020. The technology has the potential to bring this cost down and help the industry meet regulatory requirements.